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Lobby Day for Raise The Age-NY
Lobby Day for Raise The Age-NY

As NY Dooms More Kids In The Criminal Justice System, The Push To Raise The Age Continues

global.slack-imgs.comThe legislative session is in full swing, with raising the age of criminal responsibility at the top of the priority list for members of the Raise The Age-NY campaign, myself included.

The Campaign for Youth Justice reports that 250,000 youth are tried, sentenced or incarcerated as adults each year in the United States.  The majority of their offenses are non-violent.

The United States is the only country that tries youth under 18 as adults, and New York and North Carolina are the only two states in the country that have failed to recognize what research and science has confirmed; adolescents are children, and prosecuting and placing them in the adult criminal justice system doesn’t work for them.  This incarceration also doesn’t work for public safety.  Both of these states continue to prosecute teenagers over the age of 15 as adults.  Eight other states still allow 17-year-olds to be tried as adults.

Research into brain development underscores that adolescents are in fact children and that the human brain in not fully developed until the age of 25.

Further, New York allows children as young as 7 years old to be arrested and charged with with acts of juvenile delinquency.

Raise The Age-NY has put together the following fact sheet:

Who’s Affected?

  • Nearly 50,000 16- and 17-year-olds are arrested and face the possibility of prosecution as adults in criminal court each year, the vast majority for minor crimes (75.3% are misdemeanors).
  • More than 600 children ages 13 to 15 are also prosecuted in adult criminal courts, seriously diminishing their life prospects before they’ve even entered high school.
  • Over 70% of the children and youth arrested are black or Latino.  Of those sentenced to incarceration, 80% are black and Latino.

What’s at Stake?

Treating children as adults in the criminal justice system is short sighted and ineffective; youth incarcerated in adult facilities are more likely to suffer physical and emotional abuse and to recidivate. The grim reality for at-risk youth is at odds with the goal of rehabilitating and protecting public safety:

  • Studies have found that young people in the adult criminal justice system are 34% more likely t0 be rearrested for violent crimes than youth retained in the youth justice system. Around 80% of youth released from adult prisons reoffend, often going on to commit more serious crimes
  • Studies show that youth in adult prisons are twice as likely to report being beaten by staff, and 50% more likely to be attacked with a weapon, than children placed in youth facilities
  • Youth in adult prisons face the highest risk of sexual assault of all inmate populations
  • Youth in adult jails and prisons do not have access to the same age-appropriate rehabilitative services that are available in juvenile facilities
  • Solitary confinement severely damages the mental health, physical health, and development of youth, sometimes irreparably
  • Youth are 36 times more likely to commit suicide in adult facilities than in juvenile facilities
    Cadeem Gibbs, the author, preparing to speak at Lobby Day for Raise The Age-NY, March 8
    Cadeem Gibbs, the author, preparing to speak at Lobby Day for Raise The Age-NY in the State Senate Meeting Room, March 8

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has introduced a comprehensive Raise The Age proposal as part of his 2016-17 Executive Budget. The governor is a supporter of the effort to raise the age of criminal responsibility; however, his efforts to pass legislation in the past have failed.  In 2015 Cuomo did not find the support of state lawmakers to pass youth justice reforms, so with an executive action he ordered the removal of all 16 and 17-year-olds from adult facilities to be placed in their own.

The governor’s proposed budget includes $110 million for OCFS facility capacity needs, $10 million in local assistance (reappropriation) for local detention capital needs, funding to the highest need social service districts to contract non-profits to operate family support centers, and 100% state reimbursement for preventive, after-care, independent living, foster care services, approved juvenile justice services under an approved close to home initiative, probation services, and detention for youth 16 and older receiving services.

During a press conference held on the steps of the state capitol Tuesday as part of a Lobby Day, Raise The Age-NY Campaign, Assembly member Marcos A. Crespo, from the 85th Assembly District addressed the crowd saying, “If we were talking about 70% of white kids being arrested and 80% of them being sentenced to adult jails and prisons, then this policy would have changed a long time ago.”

“If you’re 15 and you make a mistake,” Crespo continued, “we’re going to treat you as an adult, and give you no opportunity at a future. We’re not talking about the critics that say we are soft on crime, no we’re being smart about preventing crime.”

“Because if you take a child that makes a mistake, and you treat him as an adult, and send him through a system that that is going to ruin any opportunity for growth in the future,” he said, “then all we’re doing is creating more future crime down the line, as opposed to taking a young man or young woman and saying we believe in you. You have a better future ahead of you, and we’re going to offer you an opportunity at that. Raise The Age is the right thing to do and we need to get it done.”

“In the words of my brother, I didn’t want to take a plea for something I didn’t do, and be a part of a system that targets blacks and hispanics,” said Akeem Browder, the older brother of Kalief Browder, who spent three years at Rikers Island, where he was continuously abused physically, verbally, and mentally by corrections’ s staff, awaiting trial for allegedly stealing a backpack.

Kalief Browder was sent to Rikers Island as an adult when he was only 16. Later evidence showed he was innocent of the crime yet he had already served the time awaiting trial, two of those years in solitary confinement. When Kalief Browder commit suicide, it because clear he had developed an untreated mental illness while in solitary.

Lobbying in Albany to raise the age youth can be tried as an adult
Lobbying in Albany to raise the age youth can be tried as an adult

Assembly member Michael Blake, from the 79th Assembly District added, “Kalief was just trying to turn things around and we failed him, for allegedly stealing a bookbag, being in solitary confinement because of a bookbag. His life was lost because of a bookbag. We are elected to make change. We are elected to stand up when injustice happens. We are elected to say to the families, that when injustice occurs, we’re going to demand that injustice changes immediately. We don’t need to wait. We need this to happen now.”

“The fact that we are one of two states that this is still the law of the land is deplorable.We need to call on the Senate Republicans to stand up. We don’t need to hear any more excuses as to why this isn’t going to happen. I’m tired of the nonsense about being soft in crime. Make sure you have a heart. The time to raise the age is now,” said Blake.

We can no longer allow for this injustice to our youth to continue. The time is now to raise the age, New York.

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About Cadeem Gibbs

Cadeem is New York based Youth Justice Organizer, Youth Development Consultant, Youth and Social Justice Advocate, Peer Educator, Writer and Change Agent. He spends lots of time mentoring young men of color through a youth mentoring program called PLOT (Preparing Leaders Of Tomorrow). Cadeem is also a part-time Travel Agent.

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